Saturday, 28 January 2012

Review: House of Chains by Steven Erikson

Title: House of Chains
By: Steven Erikson
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

In Northern Genabackis, just before the events recounted in GARDENS OF THE MOON, a raiding party of savage tribal warriors descends from the mountains into the southern flat lands. Their intention is to wreak havoc among the despised lowlanders, but for the one named Karsa Orlong it marks the beginning of what will prove an extraordinary destiny.

Some years later, it is the aftermath of the Chain of Dogs. Coltaine, revered commander of the Malazan 7th Army is dead. And now Tavore, elder sister of Ganoes Paran and Adjunct to the Empress, has arrived in the last remaining Malazan stronghold of the Seven Cities to take charge. Untested and new to command, she must hone a small army of twelve thousand soldiers, mostly raw recruits, into a viable fighting force and lead them into battle against the massed hordes of Sha'ik's Whirlwind. Her only hope lies in resurrecting the shattered faith of the few remaining survivors from Coltaine's legendary march, veterans one and all.

In distant Raraku, in the heart of the Holy Desert, the seer Sha'ik waits with her rebel army. But waiting is never easy. Her disparate collection of warlords - tribal chiefs, High Mages, a renegade Malazan Fist and his sorceror - is locked in a vicious power struggle that threatens to tear the rebellion apart from within. And Sha'ik herself suffers, haunted by the private knowledge of her nemesis, Tavore...her own sister.

It has taken me a long time to read this book. Not because I didn't enjoy it and not because the story didn't grip me. It's just that other things seem to have come between me and House of Chains. For instance, I got a brand-new Kindle for Christmas and have been busy falling in love with this and all the brilliant stories I’ve discovered. But last night I curled up with House of Chains and managed to finish it. I have to say, even though I love my Kindle, there is still nothing that beats curling up on the couch with a good paperback.

House of Chains is the fourth instalment of Eriksson's mammoth epic fantasy series, The Malazan Book of the Fallen. We return to many of the characters that we met in the second book, Deadhouse Gates, and in essence the story is the culmination of the rebellion on the continent of Seven Cities and the final showdown between the sisters Felisin and Tavore. But we meet many new characters as well. The best of these has to be Karsa Orlong who is your classic, sword wielding barbarian. He's not very nice but he's still one of the best characters in the book. How is it possible to like a character who is essentially a rapist and murderer? I don't know, but that attests to Erikson's skill in creating his characters.

As always, the story is complex and the reader is left to work out a lot for themselves. The characters often make obscure remarks to each other that the reader doesn't get and that are important in revealing plot points later in the story. As things were revealed throughout the book I often found myself skipping back to an earlier spot and thinking, “Oh right that's what he meant when he said that. Now I get it.” That's Erikson's style. It might not suit some, but I really like it.

In this story there's lots of fighting, killing, nasty gods and even nastier humans. But there's also humour, camaraderie and sizzling dialogue. The culmination of the story, where Felisin finally meets her sister, is very poignant and moving. If you like complex narrative, with a stunning array of characters and lots of epic action, this fantasy is for you.

I give it four bookworms.


  1. I'm always in the mood for an epic fantasy. Especially one that makes you think.

  2. Hi Jenny, I agree, nothing like an epic fantasy for escapism is there?


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